Rebuilding crumbled lives

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As we walked down the mountain and through the makeshift village of tin shacks and scattered rubble, I saw the words, ‘Change hearts, join hands, build homes’ on the back of a t-shirt.

Those words summed up our purpose for being in the Nepali village beautifully: to start rebuilding houses for a community of people who had watched their homes and dignity crumble before them.

Team Newy

Team Newy

With 11 other people, I had travelled across the world to the Kathmandu Valley to spend five days rebuilding the small village of Pipaltar, Kavre, as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

It was the beginning of tough yet gratifying experience; one in which we were on the frontline actively working to rebuild not just homes but lives.

This community, along with many others, was literally shaken to the ground last April, when Nepal experienced an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, killing more than 8,800 people.

I still remember back in 1989, standing on a chair in my bedroom when our house started shaking as an earthquake shook my hometown of Newcastle. The earthquake measured 5.6 on the Richter scale and 13 people died.

I remember the shock and devastation of living through that earthquake: I can’t imagine the trauma the Nepali people experienced living through the natural disaster that struck them last year.

Transitional housing

Transitional Housing

In Pipaltar, 87 houses need to be rebuilt. At the moment, those 87 families have been given ‘transitional’ housing packs to build shelters with, which are essentially tin sheets and some timber framing which they put together into a dwelling. There is a dirt floor, no windows and only the door for ventilation.

On our arrival, our team of 11 was told we would be combining with another team from Sydney and together we would be build 7 toilets and 7 septic tanks. Not glamorous at all, but an essential first step in the home building process.


Mixing cement

Janine on the shovel

Each day we worked side-by-side with local masons and spent much of our time, mixing concrete and cement, weaving bamboo walls, digging trenches and even doing a bit of bricklaying (under the watchful eye of our mason).

This was the second build I had participated in, and it was physically much tougher than the first. …but so rewarding, especially when we found out the trauma that our families had been through during and since the earthquake.

When we see natural disasters in the media, we tend to be told the basic facts: earthquake in Nepal, 7.8 on the Richer, 8,800 dead. It’s rare that we learn what life is like for people who have lived through such adversity.

So I’m going to share with you how one of the 7 families we were building for experienced the earthquake and what life is like for them now.


Naryan and Sunita


Dad: Narayan (40)

Mum: Sunita (39)

Sons: Susan (20) Muskan (18) Prasant (11)

Narayan, Sunita and their two older sons, Susan and Muskan, were down on the Valley floor in the fields working when the earthquake hit. They were removing weeds. At first they felt a slight shaking in the ground; but after a few seconds, the shaking became more violent. Sunita started to sob, crying to Narayan, ‘We are going to die’.

Narayan looked around him and saw homes start to crumble. One-by-one he watched homes fall down. Everything went dark and quiet because there was so much dust in the air.

As it was a Saturday, their youngest son, Prasant, was up in the village playing with friends.

Not knowing whether Prasant was alive, Sunita began screaming and Narayn ran to the village looking for him, scared that he may have been inside one of the crumbling homes and trapped, or worse. Narayan found Prasant safe and sound – he had been outside playing soccer with his friends.

In the village, people stood still, devastated, not knowing what to do. Many cows were trapped in their shelters, but the villagers had to wait for the shaking to cease before they could try and get them out.

In Narayan’s words, “I felt helpless and empty. It is very hard remembering that day. I don’t like to think about it.”

“After the earthquake the family saw a lot of changes in behaviour. Everyone was scared and would refuse to go back into the fields because they thought that they might die.

“It took the whole community a long time to go back to the fields.

**Narayan’s family did not cultivate crops for 2 months after the earthquake.

“People were embarrassed that their home had fallen down.

Kim-Cherie“When you know that you cannot provide for your family with a safe house you feel embarrassed, despair, useless. But knowing that we will soon have a home we are very excited and happy. You cannot explain this feeling.

“We were very grateful for the transitional shelter we were given, however, when winter came we were very cold. When it rains the roof leaks and water droplets from the cold drop on us all through winter.

“We have to walk a long way to get water. We are managing but are still struggling.

“We are just so grateful that everyone in this village was safe and that my son was okay and not in our home.

“Although we still find it hard to think about what has happened and how our lives have changed, we see the (Habitat for Humanity) volunteers arrive to help us build our homes each day and we feel happy.

“We have hope now that soon our lives will be changed for the better and back to the way it was before the earthquake. We now have hope and we can begin to smile again.

“We are so happy that we can work hand in hand with the volunteers. We are so happy to have you all here and very pleased with the work you have done. It has been so quick and looks very nice. I think that we also make you happy because we are smiling even though we face many challenges.

“We find it funny that the volunteers are taking photos of chickens and when they speak they sound so funny and different!

“The volunteers are very noisy but this is normal because when you are noisy it means you are happy! We cannot express how thankful we are.”

Belinda Smith and I are looking to take another team to Nepal in the next 12 months. If you are interested in joining us, email

With love and gratitude,

Mel xx

Melissa Histon

Photographer, philanthropist, adventurer, blogger, avid permitter and social changer, Melissa Histon is a woman on a mission to make a real difference to the lives of women globally. Melissa spent 10 years working in the corporate world before leaving to establish a successful photography business. After experiencing a number of life-altering events, Melissa created The Sista Code in May 2014 with a dream to see women empowered, happy and connected. Whether it's building a house for the homeless in Nepal, interviewing inspiring women from around the globe, or creating events and campaigns to support sistas escaping domestic violence, Melissa knows that true change can only happen when we all stand together and boost each other.

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